(This essay was originally drafted as a two-part devotional teaching.)
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven’” – Matthew 6:9-10.
When we pray “The Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth…,” the things of God, our spiritual concerns, become imminently practical. Too often we hear preaching that leads us to think we must find ways to escape the world. But Jesus came into the world to actuate God’s plan of redemption of all creation, what we normally refer to as the “mission of God,” or missio Dei. We need to embrace the idea of what God is ultimately about in mission as it works out practically.
I spend a lot of time reflecting on the Bible, theological concepts, the history of the Church set within the history of the world. For this season of my life, now spanning ten years, God has had me focused intensely on how the Spirit moves in the marketplace, an institution to which we are all inextricably linked. The marketplace provides for all our needs . . . healthcare, food, housing, clothing, education, and so on. Business pays for everything, so we would be enormously mistaken to think the marketplace is something disconnected from God or outside his concerns.
My twenty two year old son recently started a conversation about the economic situation in the United States, and the world by default, given the increasing integration of national economies into the global economy. Somewhere in the midst of that conversation God spoke to my heart that the poor are the key to the future prosperity of the entire human family.
Right now, we are faced with enormous income disparity and inequitable wealth distribution throughout the world. The poor in highly developed economies, such as the United States, live far better, and longer, than did kings just a few generations past. Unfortunately, however, more than two billion people in the world today live on less than two dollars (USD) per day. Granted, in the economies where these folk live, two dollars buys a lot more than it does in our own but that cannot close the disparity gap, considering the productive output of every man, woman, and child in the United States is over $50,000 versus less than $10,000 in the rest of the world. Even multiplying the two dollars per day by five puts annual output to about $3500 annually, only seven percent of that in the U.S. That means the global poor, more than two billion people, live on less than one percent of the average American!
But, if God were to bless the rest of the world through us, by having us make disciples of all nations (which results in changed attitudes, institutions, and opportunities), and investing in them, and output increased to the levels we experience in the United States, global output would jump by 325% to more than $350 trillion dollars versus the $83 trillion it is today.
Now it may seem odd to discuss economic issues as devotional teaching but if we are seeking to know God and follow him, then we are to be concerned with the things that God is concerned with to understand the good works he has planned for us.
Jesus warned us and admonished us in one statement: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” – Matthew 10:16. Luke 16 gives us the parable of the unjust steward in which the unfaithful steward was to lose his job for squandering the wealth of his master. To protect himself financially, the steward then took the accounts of all the master’s debtors and made adjustment sin the debtors’ favor so those folk would be generous to the steward in return once he was out of a job. The master could not have been happy about losing so much income but he admired the craftiness of the steward. Jesus concludes the story, saying “his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” – Luke 16:8-9.
The world system is corrupt and, while we do not remain a part of that corrupt system, we yet live in the world. Jesus is admonishing us to understand how the world works (“making friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that is, leveraging money, and even wealth that has previously been created or accumulated by corrupt means) and, by adapting to the world’s systems, not unethically but wisely, turn the world’s wealth toward Kingdom good.
The marketplace is one place we all find common ground. We make, we sell, we buy, we consume. How can we leverage the workings of the marketplace to Kingdom advantage? Much more of our witness to the world will play out in how we behave than by our proclamations about Jesus. But our performance within the world should be informed by the character of God being formed within us. “Doing” emanates from “being.” A dog acts like a dog because it is a dog. The righteous act righteously because their heart is righteous.
By ministering to the poor, whether by donating to immediately alleviate their suffering or investing in them to help them build their own economies, we demonstrate the generous character and provision of God toward creation. When we do that unselfishly, the altruistic, servant heart of Christ is put on undeniable display. That is love in action. When observers ask “why,” we have the opportunity to share out testimony, as Peter exhorts us to “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), to speak truth in love to the world.
When Jesus stood to read from the scroll in the Temple, he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor” – Luke 4:18. The Truth of the Gospel does not just change hearts. The Gospel changes circumstances, societies, economies, institutions . . . the Gospel turns the world upside down and re-orients it according to God’s will and ways. The Gospel changes everything!
“Your Kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth . . .” Lord, bring it!